Clarke shrugs off latest selection issue
Australia's captain Michael Clarke hinted at some confusion within the team over Shane Watson's omission and rapid recall from the World Cup team across games against Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, and said a squad mentality would be critical should the national selectors continue to shuffle their deck according to the prevailing conditions.
Watson was left out against Afghanistan and appeared likely to be on the sidelines for some time when his prime No. 3 spot in the batting order was handed over to Steven Smith. But a dry SCG surface and the decision to choose Xavier Doherty instead of a third seamer pitched him back into the team in the recently unfamiliar role of a No. 6 batsman, where he prospered alongside Glenn Maxwell.
Clarke has long avoided commenting on selection, ever since he excused himself from a formal role on the panel in the first half of 2013, but his rueful laugh and long sigh at the start of a response to questions about the Watson shuffle said as much as any words could about the sequence of the past few days. The coach Darren Lehmann and the selector on duty Mark Waugh waited until match day to conclude that Watson and Doherty would play.
"I'm not going there," Clarke said before making a fishing gesture. "The selectors pick the players, and my job is to try to get the best out of the 11 players. So no chance am I getting hold of that hook. I thought the selectors made it pretty clear that they were horses for courses in regard to selection today, they went for the extra experience with Watto in the bowling department only playing two frontline fast bowlers, so that was a big part of why they made that call ... but good question.
"I thought Shane played really well. His batting was how we know Watto can bat. He's got amazing power and I think he played a big part in helping set the game up, that partnership with Maxy and him. Then he held his nerve under pressure with the ball as well. That was a real test for us out there, as games continue to move forward we're going to be under pressure and I felt the way all the bowlers held their nerve today was exceptional."
Consultation between a captain and the selectors has long been a point of discussion in Australian cricket. Ricky Ponting had no formal selection role but seldom got a team he did not prefer, but since he stepped down from the panel Clarke has been at odds with Lehmann, Waugh, Trevor Hohns and the chairman Rod Marsh more than once. Asked whether he needed a more open line, Clarke answered carefully.
"I think it's exactly how it's been since I stood down from being a selector," he said. "It's been very consistent the whole way through. I think when I was a selector there was a lot more stuff over email and the phone in regard to communication but since I've stood down it's been exactly the same.
"It's the squad that wins you tournaments, not just the 11 players. We had a completely different team in Perth and we made a world record score. So whatever 11 players the selectors decide to pick for the conditions and against the opposition, everyone will be ready to play."
The summer has been a vexing one for Clarke, and having made his first substantial score since suffering the hamstring injury that required surgery after the first Test against India in early December, he also spoke at some length about his dealings with the media. It was in response to a broader question about how he managed to handle the stress of this season.
"I don't feel stress from what people write or say," he said. "It might have taken me a few years but I think I've slowly learned to ignore a lot of it and laugh at a lot of it, and I think that's probably the only reason I'm still playing this game at the highest level. When I was a lot younger I probably took a lot more to heart. I think I'm pretty honest with a lot of the journalist who I feel are out of line or criticise me for something that's not true.
"I'll generally front the journalist and ask why it's been said and voice my opinion, as I'm sure a few of the journos in this room have experienced. But I also understand that people have jobs to do, they have to sell newspapers, there's channels on TV that are fighting for viewers. So I understand and respect that's part and parcel of sport at the highest level, and I think if you cannot take it personally that's been the best thing for me. Sometimes it's hard but you've got to do your best."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig